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Fewer young Americans interested in driving

Zach Stauber, of Melville, at the Nassau Coliseum,

Zach Stauber, of Melville, at the Nassau Coliseum, where 30 LI kids participated in the Tire Rack Street Survival, a national driver education program that teaches teens the skills they need to stay alive behind the wheel. (July 13, 2008) Credit: Newsday / James Carbone

Here's an alarming development that strikes at the heart of American values: Young Americans are less and less interested in driving and cars.

This indifference among the age group 16 to 29 has automakers worried. "Many of their potential customers couldn't care less about owning a car in the first place," report the trend watchers at The Wall Street Journal.

If this isn't treasonous, it's the next-closest thing. Cars define this society and have for over a century. One reason we won World War II was that so many young American men knew how to drive before they entered the military.

But the figures are indisputable:

According to a 2011 University of Michigan study cited by the Journal, less than a third of 16-year-olds had driver's licenses in 2008 compared to nearly half 25 years ago. And the figures are only moderately less grim with age: less than two-thirds of 18-year-olds had licenses in 2008 compared to 80 percent in 1983.

What's the matter with these kids? Getting one's learner's permit used to be a life landmark along with going to college, getting married, having a baby and receiving that first Social Security check. Earlier generations are appalled.

Cars aren't so much disdained as ignored by a generation that stays indoors, connects with each other through social media and gravitates to cities with good public transportation.

Typically, the automakers think this problem would be solved if they could only build the right kind of cars.

A GM marketing executive quizzed 16- to 30-year-olds on what they wanted in a car. What he learned is that we're evolving into a nation of goody two-shoes. He told the Journal, "Young buyers want cars that are safe, affordable, compatible with the latest high-tech gadgetry and good for the environment."

It's well within modern memory that young car buyers, realizing that GTOs, Camaros and Mustangs were financially out of reach, had only one criterion for their first car: It had to run.

Maybe we are turning into Europe.


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